Are U.S. Candidates Really Helping Israel?
With Barack Obama having completed his recent visit to Israel, donning the ritual yamulke to visit the Holocaust Memorial, pledging absolute support for Israeli security and issuing veiled threats against Iran (all acts performed earlier by John McCain), it may seem like a silly question. The obvious answer is that both candidates have demonstrated their commitment to Israel, which should reassure both the Israelis and their supporters in the United States. All that is left to debate is which candidate would be the most steadfast in support of Israel, which translates into who would tilt most toward Israel.
Therein lies the heart of the question posed in the title. The position that is implicitly supported by the candidates is that of the current Kadima government of Israel, an offshoot of the Likud party that shows its Likud roots more and more each day. If one assumes the Kadima/Likud position is good for Israel, then the candidates are helping Israel. But what if that position is actually hurting Israel?
Not all Israelis support the current Israeli regional stance, which consists of factual (if not rhetorical) hardlining toward the Palestinians. The most obvious evidence is the continuing growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank territories that are supposed to be the basis of a Palestinian state in the two-state solution that is official Israeli policy. It is an absolute sham. There are now a quarter million Israelis living on the West Bank (closer to 400,000 if Jewish suburbs in East Jerusalem are included) in 140 settlements that are accessible by roads on which only Israelis can travel and which are patrolled (complete with checkpoints) by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). If left in place (and it is increasingly difficult to argue with a straight face the Israelis have any intention of undoing all this), the prospects for negotiating a peace agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of two states approaches zero. If one assumes that U.S. policy isnot identical to Israeli policy in the region and that a peace treaty with which the Muslims in the region are happy is in the American interest, then continuing to support–or not vigorously to oppose–the Israeli settlement policy (which neither candidate has done) is tantamout to opposing the American national interest. It may not serve Israeli interests either.
There are only three ways out of the current Israeli-Palestinian impasse. One is a continuation of the current Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including further expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank following the Likud preference for a “Greater Israel.” Nobody thinks that will work in the long run; at best, it settles none of the differences that separate the party;at worst, it simply allows things to fester.
A second solution is the two-state solution. As noted, this is official policy on everyone’s part: the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the Americans. The Israelis and Palesinians are divided on how the division of the West Bank occurs: the more that becomes part of Palestine, the happy the Palestinians are, and vice versa. The division of Jerusalem, which Obama has opposed but has backed slightly away from, is part of this controversy. It is the only solution that resolves the situation by separating the parties. It makes so much sense, however, that it is a diminishing possibility. Some Israelis who oppose the Kadima/Likud position believe the window is closing on this option, and that the settlements are what is slamming the window closed.
The last possibility, which becomes the only option to the status quo if the two-state solution dies, is a single Israeli-Palestinian state encompassing current Israel and the West Bank. It could take two forms. One is as a fully representative democracy. The problem with that is that the Jewish population of the combined state would be in a slight minority, and because the growth rate of the Palestinians is higher than that of the Israelis, that balance will tip progressively against the Jews. A fully democratic Israel/Palestine would not be a Jewish state. The other possibility is the one raised by Jimmy Carter: a combined state where the Israelis are fully participating citizens and the Palestinians are not. Carter had the audiacity to call such an outcome an “apartheid” state, which is politically incorrect but probably factually descriptive. If one thinksIsrael is a pariah state that is vigorously opposed by its opponents now, just imagine what this possibility could produce.
What all this suggests is that it is not at all clear that unfettered support for the current Israeli government is really in the interest of Israel or anyone else–other than the Likudniks and their dreams of a Jewish-controlled Israel that extends to the Jordan River (the entire West Bank incorporated into Israel). That solution may (apparently does) sound good to Benjamin Netanyahou, but it would arouse passions that certainly do not serve U.S. interests. Or, for that matter, sensible Israeli interests.
Election campaigns are not great places for getting at the detailed, complex nature of international problems. Sound bites of undying support for Israel sound good to an American electorate which does not know what that means, but those sound bites may disserve the interests of peace in the region. How about biting the bullet and suggesting a little tough love for he Israelis; for instance, conditioning our unconditional support on dismantling of all the Israeli settlements not directly contiguous to the pre-1967 borders of Israel? The candidate who might take such a position might even rise above the label of politician to that of statesman. Isn’t that what we want after eight years of decidedly unstatesmanlike behavior in the White House?